‘Profits over patients’: Philly DA goes after insulin makers and distributors on price-fixing collusion allegations

The ever-increasing cost of life-saving diabetes medication is forcing some patients to ration their supply of insulin, risking massive health complications.

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Larry Krasner speaking at a podium.

DA Larry Krasner speaks about the lawsuit about insulin price gouging. (Tom MacDonald WHYY)

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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has filed a lawsuit against nearly 20 pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers for what he said is colluding to inflate the consumer cost of insulin. He said the cost increase has come even though insulin’s production costs are cheaper than ever.

Krasner accused the companies of a pricing “scheme” to artificially inflate the cost of a drug that is essential to the life of some diabetes patients. He added that filing the suit is about “profits over patients, about price fixing and what it is and what it means when a prosecutor takes an oath to uphold public safety.”

Krasner, who has diabetes himself, said he’s using consumer protection laws in the suit, calling it unfair and deceptive how the companies conspired to increase prices.

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Maureen May, of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, has been a registered nurse for 40 years. She has a problem with the “cost gouging” and “profiteering” her patients bear, and said the abnormally high price of insulin harms the patients.

Maureen May speaking at a podium
Maureen May of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, with DA Larry Krasner in background. (Tom MacDonald WHYY)

“We don’t need to line big pharma’s pockets, we need to take care of our patients,” May said.  “This is life-saving medication, and the companies are putting profits over patients.”

“With no shame, each of them bump up the price of insulin in lockstep,” Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke said. “Once you take a look, it’s hard to see the game they are running. It’s too consistent to be a coincidence.”

Jesse Braxton has had type-1 diabetes since the age of 5. He has worn an insulin pump for more than 20 years and has continuous glucose monitoring.

He admitted to stretching his insulin when he didn’t have enough money to pay the $300 for a month’s worth.

Braxton spoke of the complications, blindness, and amputations that are kept at bay through uninterrupted access to insulin. “Insulin is a lifeline with locked-in consumers who can’t live without it,” he said.

Braxton said there is no alternative to insulin for him, and the companies that make it know that. Despite that, they still work to increase the prices to increase their bottom line.

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“This has given them the ability to charge whatever they want, which they have taken advantage of in order to bring in massive profits.”

In response, Eli Lilly issued a statement: “This complaint is baseless and should be dismissed, just like cases brought by other local governments have been. It’s the local governments filing these lawsuits — not Lilly — who decide the terms of the rebate arrangements they now say are improper, including whether to pass rebates on to people who take insulin.”

“Lilly has been working for years to reduce insulin out-of-pocket costs for people with diabetes, against the headwinds of a healthcare system that incentivizes others — like the parties filing these lawsuits — to choose higher list-price medicines over lower-priced options.”

CVS is one of the pharmacy benefits managers also named in the suit. Michael DeAngelis of the company also issued a similar statement:

“Pharmaceutical companies alone are responsible for the prices they set in the marketplace for the products they manufacture. Nothing in our agreements prevents drug manufacturers from lowering the prices of their insulin products and we would welcome such an action. Allegations that we play any role in determining the prices charged by manufacturers for their products are false, and we intend to vigorously defend against this baseless suit.”

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